A Danube River Cruise, by Ted Cookson

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by Ted Cookson
Published in May 2011
Budapest from Fisherman's Bastion, 33-second video clip
St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna, 30-second video clip
Apple strudel cooking demonstration at Shonbrunn Palace, Vienna, 45-second video clip
Cesky Krumlov and Vltava River #1, 34-second video clip
Cesky Krumlov and Vltava River #2, 34-second video clip

Nuremberg fireworks from riverboat, 44-second video clip
Trio playing on the street in Prague, 32-second video clip
Prague's Charles Bridge, 26-second video clip

During a recent summer I took an 8-day cruise up the Danube River from Budapest to Nuremberg, Germany. The itinerary included Vienna, Durnstein and Melk in Austria and Passau and Regensburg in Germany plus Cesky Krumlov and Prague in the Czech Republic. The Avalon Poetry, the modern riverboat on which I traveled, with a capacity of 176 passengers, is 126.6 meters (129 feet) long and 11.4 meters (37 feet) wide. My 13-day tour package featured two pre-cruise nights in Budapest and three nights in Prague after the cruise. The great advantage of river cruising is that typically the boats dock right in the town center. This makes sightseeing easy as the notable sights in most European cities and towns are often within a stone's throw of a river.

Cosmopolitan Budapest, where I embarked on my cruise, spans both banks of the fast-flowing Danube. Seven bridges connect ancient Buda, on the river's hilly west bank, with Pest on the sprawling eastern plain. From Castle Hill with its famous Fishermen's Bastion and Matthias Church there is a tremendous view of Parliament which is situated on the river front. In romantic Budapest one can shop for embroidery, porcelain and paprika.

In Vienna I visited the impressive Gothic St. Stephen's Cathedral with its very colorful roof. I also toured the Schonbrunn Palace with its beautiful gardens. My favorite part of the latter was the apple strudel cooking demonstration staged in the former imperial kitchens. Samples were offered afterward.

The picture-perfect little town of Durnstein in Austria's Wachau wine region with its baroque architecture is best known for the castle which sits above it. There an Austrian archduke imprisoned Richard the Lionhearted in 1192. However, the unexpected highlight of the entire cruise was probably the elaborately-decorated baroque Benedictine abbey fortress at Melk. Although there has been an abbey on this site since the eleventh century, the current structure dates only to the eighteenth century. The abbey's library and terrace are remarkable.

The Avalon Poetry stopped in Linz, Austria's third-largest town, just long enough for two optional tours to depart. Rather than travel to Salzburg, I chose the tour to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. Later that same afternoon, after spending the day in three different countries, I rejoined the riverboat at Passau, Germany. Luckily Cesky Krumlov, situated on the Vltava River, was not bombed during World War II. Today the medieval town, little changed over the last few centuries, is one of the prettiest places in Europe.

Attractive Regensburg was once a very important trading city as its twelfth-century stone bridge was the only one of its kind across the Danube at the time of its construction. The remaining medieval core of Regensburg is still worth a visit. After touring historic and heavily-restored Nuremberg with its 900-year-old ramparts, our tour group disembarked and traveled to Prague by coach.

Prague, like Cesky Krumlov, also sits astride the Vltava River; and it is truly an architectural wonderland. Prague Castle, with its St. Vitus Cathedral, is the city's iconic landmark. Stare Mesto, or Old Town, dating to the thirteenth century, contains the city's well-known astronomical clock. The renowned statue-lined Charles Bridge, begun in 1357, is usually jammed with tourists. Prague is the place to shop for hand-cut crystal.

I enjoyed my Danube River cruise so much that someday I also plan to sail from Budapest down the Danube. Tour packages with that itinerary normally end in Bucharest. The only mistake I made on my last river cruise was in purchasing a cabin on the lowest floor. As it turns out, in order for a riverboat to transit under some of the lowest Danube bridges, water must be taken on as ballast. This additional weight causes the riverboat to sink, thus allowing it to travel under these low bridges. However, when that happens, the view out the bottom portion of the window from the lowest cabins is like an aquarium minus the fish!

Open jaw restricted economy class airfare from Cairo to Budapest with return from Prague to Cairo begins at about EGP 3,900. 

ABOUT TED COOKSON:  Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world!  He has also visited 315 of the 320 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit www.eptours.com and refer to World Travel Club).  A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi.  Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at:  Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301.  Fax 2359-1199.  E-mail:  ept@link.net.  Web site:  www.eptours.com

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